|Flight #1 (JFK to JNB - South African Airways - A340-600)|
365 days ago, I started a once-in-a-lifetime journey. I took a flight, the longest flight of my life. It was a 15.5 hour journey aboard South African Airways, from New York JFK to Johannesburg OR Tambo. It was aboard South African Airways beautiful A340-600, the worlds' longest plane.
365 days later, I started a weekly journey. I took a flight, one of the shortest flights of my life. It was a 1.73 hour journey aboard United Airlines, from Newark to Gerald R. Ford Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was aboard a United Airlines Embraer-145, one of the smallest standard commercial aircraft in the world.
365 days ago, I started a journey that I will never repeat. Visiting nine different countries (South Africa, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Singapore, Australia, Japan) over 105 days. 365 days later, I'm doing the last weekly trip that I've had to repeat a lot, vising three different states (Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan).
365 days ago I started a trip that was a gift from my a Great Dad. This isn't about that trip. I've written thousands upon thousands of words on that trip. No, this is about what I had to do 30 times on that trip, and had to about 25 times in the last three months: take off and land on an airplane. 30 trips in 105 days made me love air travel even more. 24 trips in 90 days made me hate it more than I ever though imaginable. This is a story about how long haul flights make you love this incredible creation that is the airplane, while short haul makes you wish the Wright Brothers never were born.
Ever since I was a kid I loved flying in an airplane. Not flying planes myself, but being a passenger, being in this giant bus thousands of feet above the ground. I loved the little food, the free drinks, the movies (although when I was a kid it was one movie, that started at the same time for everyone). I loved flying, visiting new airports, taking new airlines. I was someone born to do the job I currently have, which is fly each week.
One of the things that I was most excited about for my Round the World Trip was the chance to take 30 flights, take many new airlines (South African, Thai, AirAsia, Singapore, Jetstar, All Nippon). One of my favorite parts was choosing my different mileage segments, getting the flights I wanted, getting three trips on the A380. The best example was when I chose to take the Mumbai => Singapore => Frankfurt => New York way home on Singapore Airlines instead of Mumbai => Newark direct flight.
I'm rethinking all of that now. I've taken 24 flights over the past 90 days. I can count the amount that have taken off on time on one hand. Sure, it was one of the worst winters in memory everywhere in the US outside of California, but it was the worst airline I was flying anywhere in the world outside of American Airlines.
Let's just recap my incredible journey of flying on United these past few months:
- I was diverted mid-flight to Milwaukee because of some mechanical issue (this was on my first flight out to Michigan), making me drive 4.5 hours from Milwaukee to Michigan.
- I had a flight cancelled because the previous flight had to divert to Chicago and by the time they got to Grand Rapids they had clocked out and couldn't fly the next flight.
- I was delayed three hours in Grand Rapids for fuck knows what reason
- I was delayed in Chicago in the plane 1.5 hours because they couldn't get the fuel valve opened
- I was delayed five hours in Detroit after we all boarded the plane because one of the engines didn't fire. We had the deplane and wait in Detroit five hours for them to send a new plane
- I had a flight cancelled after we boarded the plane and pushed back from the gate because the plane couldn't get de-iced in time (this was in the blizzard on the Day after the Super Bowl).
- I had a flight cancelled because Newark decided to cancel it for some reason, and then had my rescheduled flight cancelled after I woke up at 4:45, and then had to sit an hour at 5AM going between United and Delta to get rescheduled.
- And, oh yeah, I had a flight delayed two hours because THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT OVER-FUCKING-SLEPT
All of these things happened. This also doesn't include about 10 different times my flight was delayed less than two hours but still created an annoyance. I had to endure all of these scenarios. At first, I thought it was because I was flying out of Grand Rapids, a small airport with no departing flight after 7 PM leaving me little alternative options. Alas, I had delays flying out of Detroit and Chicago. I couldn't escape the wrath of United Airlines. I couldn't escape the wrath of the modern American Aviation industry.
On the 30 flights during my Round the World trip, only one was delayed by more than an hour, a flight in India, the one country who's aviation system is almost as bad as America's. 30 flights and none had strange delays. I can use this as evidence of how bad United is, but really it just shows one of the biggest truths of aviation: long-haul is the way to go.
Long Haul flights are the last remaining segment of the aviation world that harks back to the Golden Age of flying. That was the era when flying was, admittedly, for the Super Rich, but was lavish, luxurious. You had beautiful, young stewardesses pampering you with food and drink. You had airlines that valued fanciness over financial gain. It was a different time, but that world is still somewhat evident in long haul flying.
Long Haul flights on International Airlines are still amazing. I love the real Long-Haul ones, the ones over 12 hours, where you can get a decent sleep and still bang out two or three movies, where you can do everything you should be able to do on a flight. Nowadays, all the major airlines across the world have on-demand video on long-haul flights. Have good meals with two or three options. Serve decent alcohol. Do everything you want from a flight. Those are the only flights still worth taking.
I realized this when I took what was pretty much the only flight on United that I enjoyed, the four hour flight from Chicago to San Francisco. For some unknown reason, United chooses to run a B777-200 on this flight, a plane so big it is never used on domestic travel in the US. This plane is mostly used on long-haul international flights. I was lucky enough to get it on a domestic one, and they had Movies On Demand. They had big aisles and nice seats. Of course, we didn't get free food, but it was still pretty good. It was something close to the Thai Airlines flights I took last year (the worst of the four major International Airlines I took). It was the best United to had to offer.
And it all made me feel worse of taking that same old Embraer-145 each Monday. I love flying. I still do. I just booked a mileage trip to Berlin in four weeks and can't wait to experience an actual flight again. Nothing would amke me happier than getting the opportunity to go on a 15.5 hour flight again. Hopefully I will someday. But now I've figured out to do so I need to sit through my fair share of mechaanical failures, weather delays, crews that clock out and oversleep, and random cancellations. A year teaches you a lot, but it really teaches you to enjoy the better versions of things, because the bad versions are unhumanly bad.
Flights #2 through #29
(JNB-CPT / CPT-JNB / JNB-BKK / BKK-SGN / SGN-DLT / DLT-SGN / PNH - DMK / DMK - PKT / PKT-KUL / KUL-PEN / PEN-KUL / KUL-BLR / BLR-JAI / UDI-BOM / BOM-GOA / GOA-BOM / BOM-SIN / SIN-MEL / MEL-CNS / CNS-SYD / SYD-MEL / MEL-BKK / BKK-NRT / NRT-BKK / BKK-BLR / BLR-BOM / BOM-SIN / SIN-FRA / FRA-JFK)
All Photos credited to the amazing Photographers at Airliners.net